New Unitus Labs Initiative Seeks to Accelerate Development of Innovative Startups Which Have the Potential to Significantly Benefit Families Living on Less Than $2 Per Day
Seattle, WA and Bangalore, India, February 6, 2012 — Unitus Labs, an international non-profit focused on reducing global poverty through economic self-empowerment, is launching today the Unitus Seed Fund, a new seed stage venture fund that invests in Indian startup businesses with potential for large-scale poverty impact. Unitus Seed Fund is also announcing its first three investments in Indian startups Bodhicrew Services, Hippocampus Learning Centres, and Milaap Social Ventures. Unitus Capital acted as a financial advisor to Unitus Seed Fund on these investments.
“After a decade of helping accelerate and scale the Indian microfinance industry, we are excited to launch the new Unitus Seed Fund initiative in order to support development of more new pro-poor businesses,” said Dave Richards, CEO of Unitus Labs and Managing Director of Unitus Seed Fund. “We are seeing a new group of highly capable and socially motivated entrepreneurs who believe that they can realize more wide-scale and sustainable poverty impact by operating as a business rather than as a non-profit. The Unitus family of entities has always been willing to invest on the cutting edge of economic empowerment concepts and projects.”
Unitus Seed Fund targets investments in companies meeting the following criteria:
- Businesses serving Indian markets
- Potential for scaled impact on 800 million people in India living on less than $2 per day
- Strong, experienced management team
- Business developed beyond the concept stage
- Clearly differentiated value proposition
- Strategies to build effective distribution and marketing programs
“Unitus Seed Fund addresses an important gap in the social impact venture ecosystem by funding and supporting businesses which are beyond bootstrap but not yet far enough along to receive growth capital,” said Vineet Rai, Founder and Chief Executive at Aavishkaar Venture Management Service and a pioneer investor for inclusive economic development in India. “If they can find and nurture more businesses to the point of readiness to scale rapidly, it will allow other social venture funds to focus on realizing the impact potential of these businesses.”
“Unitus Seed Fund is providing a critical role as a supplier of very high risk, flexible capital to entrepreneurs who are trying to improve the lives of poor families in many important sectors including education, healthcare and livelihoods,” said Samit Ghosh, Managing Director at Ujjivan Financial Services and investee of Unitus Lab’s Unitus Equity Fund. “We received very valuable funding and management support from Unitus during our vulnerable early stages of our history. Today, we are recognized as one of the best microfinance institutions in India providing financial and microfinance plus services to over million customers and their families across twenty states in India, thanks to our friends like Unitus.”
Announcing First Three Seed Investments
Unitus Seed Fund has made its first three seed investments — all in India — in three sectors: skill development and job placement services, affordable rural education services, and new areas of microcredit financial services.
Bodhicrew Services: Skill development for those working in the unorganized sector
“We are very pleased to have Unitus Seed Fund as an investor in Bodhicrew because this is not only testament to our commitment to promote skill development of those working in unorganized sector in India but also to our business model and vision”, said Vivek Kaushik, CEO of Bodhicrew Services Pvt. Ltd. “With this investment from Unitus Seed Fund, we will be able to provide a truly integrated employment and skills services to the most disadvantaged in the labor market in a sustainable way.”
Bodhicrew Services provides skill development for those working in the unorganized sector. Bodhicrew provides a complete domestic work solution to the rapidly growing middle class of India. Bodhicrew offers a one-stop solution to employers for an ethically sourced and well-trained workforce. To the workers, Bodhicrew offers technical training and guarantees safe placement and fair wages. It also supports legislative, administrative and policy changes which contribute to the employability, dignity, and welfare of the workers and their families. Bodhicrew is based in New Delhi, India. See more details on Unitus Seed Fund’s investment in Bodhicrew Services.
Hippocampus Learning Centres: Improving learning outcomes for children in rural India
“We are excited to have Unitus Seed Fund as a seed investor in Hippocampus Learning Centres because it vindicates our project, the first of its kind to provide affordable education services to remote rural populations”, said Umesh Malhotra, CEO of Hippocampus Learning Centres. “With this investment, we will be able to expand our reach into 100 villages, reaching out to more than 5,000 children and employing nearly 300 women by June 2012.”
Hippocampus Learning Centres (HLC) believes that one of the sure shot ways out of poverty is education. HLC’s work focuses exclusively on the 700 million rural Indians with the aim of improving the learning of children. HLC establishes learning centres in villages offering preschool and after school programs to age groups from 3 years to 10 years with the aim of improving a child’s capacity to learn and do better in school. The fees at these centres are between Rs.60-Rs.100 (USD$1-$2) per month, which is affordable for poor families. The curriculum is centrally developed to cater to mixed age groups and is largely teacher facilitated. HLC hires woman from the local community as teachers, trains them to run the centres and provides them ongoing support. HLC intends to make these ongoing sustainable community enterprises and also achieve financial sustainability as an organization. HLC is based in Bangalore, India. See more details on Unitus Seed Fund’s investment in Hippocampus Learning Centres.
Milaap Social Ventures: Online platform to make microloans to India’s working poor
“We’re excited to have Unitus Seed Fund as an investor in Milaap as they bring with them years of knowledge and experience in the microfinance and fundraising space,” said Sourabh Sharma, CEO of Milaap Social Ventures. “We look forward to their support and guidance as we try to help thousands of people get out the vicious cycle of poverty.”
Milaap is an online microlending platform which enables anyone around the world to lend money to the working poor in India through the website www.milaap.org. Milaap was founded in 2010 by a team of young and passionate entrepreneurs from premier institutions in India and Singapore. Milaap envisions a world where the poor are valued as dignified consumers, suppliers, and producers as opposed to mere borrowers. The loans aim to provide the poor with access to basic amenities including clean drinking water, toilets, education, renewable energy as well as income-generation opportunities. So far, Milaap has raised USD $200,000 for borrowers in various parts of India with 100% repayment rate. Milaap is based in Bangalore, India. See more details on Unitus Seed Fund’s investment in Milaap Social Ventures.
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About Unitus Seed Fund
Unitus Seed Fund is a seed stage venture investor in businesses which impact poverty. Unitus Seed Fund identifies startups with strong entrepreneurial teams who have a mission to build large sustainable businesses which improve the lives of those living at the base of the economic pyramid (income of less than $2 per day.) Unitus Seed Fund makes small equity investments and provides support to these social entrepreneurs to expand beyond their initial pilot to refine their business model and operations understanding to prepare for significant future growth and impact. Once solid progress has been accomplished, Unitus Seed Fund assists social entrepreneurs in raising growth capital to expand further. Unitus Seed Fund is a project of Unitus Labs and is currently focused on the India market. Unitus Seed Fund has offices in Seattle and Bangalore. See unitusseedfund.com for more details.
About Unitus Labs
Unitus Labs is an international non-profit which focuses on reducing poverty through economic self-empowerment. Unitus Labs identifies opportunities for market-based solutions to global poverty, experiments and incubates implementation approaches and then supports scale up of the most promising findings. Unitus Labs has incubated and spun-out Unitus Equity Fund, the first early-stage microfinance venture fund, Unitus Capital, the leading financial advisory service for social enterprises in India, and Unitus Impact, an investment company seeking to improve the lives of millions of people currently battling poverty. Unitus Labs has offices in Seattle and Bangalore. See unituslabs.org for more details.